Books

Readorama: To Hoover’s FBI, protecting America meant investigating gays, author says

In the mid-1940s a Cleveland housewife passed along some chatty hearsay to her bridge club friends that J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, might be homosexual.

The bureau’s Cleveland special agent-in-charge soon visited the woman, persuading her to walk those comments back in front of those friends.

She did.

A Washington beautician passed long the same rumors in 1951. Two bureau agents visited her, offering the same advice.

The agents’ visits, described in “Hoover’s War on Gays: Exposing the FBI’s ‘Sex Deviates’ Program,” by historian Douglas Charles, testifies not only to the reach of the FBI’s loose-talk radar after World War II, but also to the swiftness with which the bureau acted on information gathered.

“Hoover’s FBI was tasked with protecting America from subversive and criminal elements, and gays fell into both of those categories,” said Charles, an associate history professor at Penn State University-Greater Allegheny.

“So if the head of the FBI was gay … that would utterly undermine the carefully and intentionally crafted public reputation and raison d’etre of the FBI.”

Any book on Hoover’s actions against gays and lesbians would have to address the stories regarding Hoover’s sexuality.

Douglas dismantles those allegations in his initial pages, detailing how those stories, including Hoover’s alleged cross-dressing habits, have been based on unverifiable evidence.

“In virtually every FBI history presentation I’m asked about Hoover’s sexuality,” Charles said.

“I believed it was crucial to dispense with it from the start, explain why the meme existed and why it has persisted … so I could move on to the grim reality of Hoover’s decades-long focus on gays.”

Ultimately Hoover’s sexual habits are unknowable, Charles said, and the issue distracts from what he calls the bureau’s “obsession” with gays and lesbians that began with the investigation of a 1937 child murder and evolved into a way to evaluate possible security risks during World War II and the Cold War.

In 1950 the bureau created its “Sex Deviates” program. While the bureau incinerated more than 330,000 pages of program documents in the late 1970s, a policy memo documenting the initiative’s origins surfaced only last year. His book, Charles said, made use of that memo and also described the work of secret bureau informants, including some who worked as medical therapists.

“With the rise of the Cold War, and intensified fears of communist subversion, nuclear annihilation and a conformist culture, gays were intensely targeted in a combined way as criminal, moral and subversive threats,” Charles said.

The FBI assumed a central role in that effort, he added.

Charles speaks at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the National Archives at Kansas City, 400 W. Pershing Road. For more info, go to archives.gov/kansas-city/press/.

When cancer strikes

Upon hearing the diagnosis, a new cancer patient’s first impulse may not be to reach for a book.

But good information written in clear language is crucial, and so is keeping a clear head, said John Leifer, a Leawood health care consultant and writer who, with wife Lori Lindstrom Leifer, has written “After You Hear It’s Cancer: A Guide to Navigating the Difficult Journey Ahead.”

“First thing: Take your foot off the accelerator,” Leifer said.

“Our tendency, of course, is to trust our physicians and immediately defer to their judgment and just get moving on treatment. But medicine is complex, and most of us don’t have a high degree of health literacy.

“We don’t understand the jargon, and when we or someone we love is suddenly struck with this disease, that creates great fear. It’s a perfect storm.”

The couple bring credibility to this topic. He formerly served as a systems senior vice president for St. Luke’s Hospital. She is a radiation oncologist at the University of Kansas Cancer Center and a breast cancer survivor.

Their book offers procedural advice regarding treatment options for specific diseases. That includes street-level financial advice, such as whether there might be variations in charges between doctors and hospitals, and which hidden costs patients should be alert to.

Leifer said that patients should inform themselves in every way possible, not only through their book but also reliable sources. That includes the nonprofit online National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

“We need to trust our physicians, but based on good information,” he said.

John Leifer and Lori Lindstrom Leifer will speak at 7 p.m. Thursday at Barnes & Noble in Leawood, 4751 W. 117th St.

Brian Burnes: 816-234-4120, @BPBthree

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